The Foreign Service Journal - July/August 2014 - page 43

and world-class shopping, it offered all the excesses of being
fortunate enough to be an affluent Nairobian. Few imagined that
this would be ground zero for jihad in Kenya.
As more news reached the international media, discussion of
the devastating event took on an interesting twist. Besides calls for
unity and love among Kenyans during this trying time, tweeters
from the rest of the world also began expressing their surprise that
there were any shopping malls in Kenya. Yet one would think that a
city with four million residents, one of the largest stock exchanges
in Africa and the headquarters of more than 100 major inter-
national companies and organizations, would have at least one
shopping mall.
Indeed, the curiosity of this apparently “Western” environment
seems to have contributed to the massive international news cov-
erage. It struck home for some with familiar overtones of shootings
in Aurora and Sandy Hook: senseless violence and young lives
snatched away by gunfire. Westgate, however, was not a result
of weak gun laws or introverted perpetrators who had slipped
through the cracks of society. Our country was under attack.
The Power of the Kenyan “Spirit”
After four days of a horribly botched operation by the Kenyan
army to neutralize the attackers came to an end, the effects on
our collective psyche were tremendous. Suddenly no one felt
safe anymore. Rich, poor, black, white: when jihad came knock-
ing, everyone was a target.
There was an enormous outpouring of love and support from
Kenyans to all those who had been affected by the attack. People
gave blood, food and clothing, anything that would take our
minds off the news and counteract our feelings of powerlessness.
Something called “the Kenyan Spirit” was seen in the acts of char-
ity and giving. International journalists said that in all their years
spent around the world, they had never been served tea and food
by well-wishers at the scene of any event they were covering.
Everyone acknowledged that this was not a normal occur-
rence. Kenya is a country where the top 10 percent of the popula-
tion earns 44 percent of the country’s income. The poverty rate
is between 37 and 42 percent, and 40 percent of the working-age
population is unemployed. Nowhere in the country are these
inequalities more extreme than in the capital, where people from
all over the country come in search of a better life. Two-thirds of
Nairobians live in “informal settlements,” the shantytowns littered
with miles and miles of tin shacks. These informal settlements
occupy less than 5 percent of the total landmass.
When you hear about Nairobi being one of the top property
markets in the world, you probably won’t be told that a majority
of these developments cater exclusively to high-income earners,
leaving the poor with no chance of ever owning a home. Impres-
sive high-rise apartments overlook slums with some of the lowest
living standards in the world. Executives and professionals walk
past beggars and street families on their way to work.
For us, this is simply how it’s always been. Poverty is like a
On Sept. 21, 2013, unidentified gunmen entered Westgate Mall in Nairobi. Firing randomly and taking hostages, the terrorists laid siege
to the upscale shopping center for three days, leaving at least 67 dead and more than 175 wounded. Above, officers of the Kenyan
Defense Forces during a rescue operation on that day.
Jeff Angote/Nation Media/Gallo Images/Getty Images
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